Mercedes Benz launches the grandest of its tourers
It would have been easy to be cynical about the Mercedes-AMG GT Coupe. After all, this five-door car tries to sell off the back of the GT two-door but its only technical connections to the 911-fighter are its engine, gearbox and its front and rear looks.
And yet it mostly works. And that’s something of a surprise and a testament to the value of clever scaffolding.
Beneath its contrived, stretched banana of a five-door "coupe" body, the GT Coupe isn’t a stretched GT. That would have entailed an enormous amount of creative aluminium spaceframe shenanigans and it seemed altogether easier just to stretch out the well-received E63 instead. So that’s what they did.
AMG has tried to cram so many GT design "signatures" into a big five-door you could even call it AMG’s Panamera.
There’s the grille, obviously, and the tail, which is equally obvious, yet in between is, err, nothing at all related to the GT. It’s a big machine inside, too, with seating for five and a step up in rear legroom.
There will be the new 53 powertrain, which combines the smooth musings of the new straight-six 3.0l turbo motor with the silent urgings of a 250Nm electric motor. It’s actually the pick of the new GT Coupe family because it’s not dominated by the thump and bellow of its engine, which lets you absorb a bit more of the machine around you.
It’s technically every bit as fun as the 4.0l biturbo V8 in the range-topping GT 63 S, but it’s far more capable of acting like the adult in the room.
The 3.0l straight six has a turbocharger, variable valve timing and lift and even cylinder deactivation for cruising jobs, delivering 320kW of power and 520Nm of torque. AMG added an extra 16kW of power and 250Nm of torque from the powered-up integrated starter-generator it attaches to the flywheel. It ties in with a 48V electrical system and a lithium-ion battery to feed more in at the bottom of the engine’s torque curve.
It virtually eliminates turbo lag, fattening things up via electric boosting of the crankshaft, and helps the GT 53 to 100km/h in 4.9 seconds on its way to a 270km/h top end. The added bonus is that it pulls the fuel consumption down to 9.1l/100km.
With the lighter six-pot lurking over the front axle, the handling is sweeter and crisper, taking advantage of the GT Coupe’s rear-wheel steering by carrying only 1,965kg compared to the V8’s 2,045kg mass.
Like its faster brethren, the 53 runs active aerodynamics at both ends, including a version of the GT R’s active front splitter, and it also apes the V8’s active all-wheel drive system.
That works seamlessly in the six-cylinder version and there’s something about the lightness on its toes that seems to mark it down as the GT Coupe to live with, rather than make headlines with. Of course, making headlines is no bad thing when that’s what the situation calls for, so in the flagship V8 version dialling up 470kW of power and 900Nm of torque from just four litres is a helpful little addition.
Few other car makers would have the audacity to launch such a heavy car at a racetrack, much less at the Circuit of the Americas, which is one of the toughest tests of chassis around.
It’s an odd thing to punch around at a track like this, hauling well beyond 270km/h on the back straight. The rear wheel steering and the driver-assistance systems (including a Race mode, would you believe, on a 2-tonne car) make it easy to throw around. It stops brilliantly and consistently, too, on its composite discs. The one thing you can’t talk it out of is understeering under power after the apex, as you try to gather speed on the exit of the corner.
The full thump of 900Nm arrives at 2,500rpm and the power is still delivering at 6,500 revs. It’s enough to reach 100km/h in 3.2 seconds, and runs on to a 315km/h top speed.
The nine-speed automatic transmission is a clever piece of kit, too, as is the all-wheel drive system that changes the amount of drive each end receives on demand. The trick, though, isn’t that the GT 63S Coupe does a passable job of driving faster around a racetrack than most of its owners will ever need it to. It’s that it does all of this and retains its good manners on the road, bumps or not.
Even the six-cylinder version scores multibeam LED headlights as standard kit, along with steel springs and an adaptive damping system. There is a choice of two crafted rear seats or a flatter three-seat bench.
Its dash display runs the full 31.2cm wide-screen digital display (optional on the 53), doubling as the instrument cluster and the infotainment screen.
The V8 is loaded inside, too, with a Burmester surround sound system.
The 63 S uses six drive programmes, including Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual (which can be customised) and Race. On top of that, there are steering-wheel dials and/or centre-console switches so you can change each part of the car independently, like the exhaust noise or the damper stiffness.
They might not have created a five-door GT, exactly, but they have created a very good grand touring car. Now, if they could just slash a few hundred kilos out of it.
It will arrive in SA in the second quarter of 2019, in 53 and 63 derivatives.